Bishopric of the Army. The Bishop of Alba Iulia.

Period: approx. 1922 | Previous story | Next story

Military clerics became embedded in the Romanian army soon after the Unification of the Principalities in 1859. However, up to the war of independence (1877-1878), they had an uncertain status and were not entitled to the same advantages as officers. The outbreak of the First World War prompted the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church and the General Headquarters of the Army to adopt a set of instructions which systematized the network of priests in the army and assimilated it into the military hierarchy. The head of the Army Religious Services was given the grade of colonel, while military priests, initially lieutenants, could rise to the grade of captain after acts of heroism. The traumatizing effects of the war, and also the mentality which led to the preservation in the constitution of 1923 of the term “dominating church” for the Romanian Orthodox Church, have led to a more elaborate structuring of the activity of priests in the army.

On 6 August 1921, the Law for the Organisation of Military Clergy established the Bishopric of the Army. The law prescribed that in each regiment should be appointed a priest from every major religion represented in that regiment. In order to provide spiritual assistance to soldiers from ethnic-religious minorities, each garrison had a cleric with officer’s rank, as well as a priest, pastor, rabbi or imam.

The head of the Bishopric of the Army was given the title of Bishop of Alba Iulia, as this was where the Bishopric was based. The Bishopric of the Army’s placement in Alba Iulia was intended to elevate the prestige of the city, which had hosted the Great National Assembly on 1 December 1918. The Bishop of Alba Iulia was subject to a double jurisdiction. As hierarch of the church, he was a member of the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church. As a military officer, he had the rank of general and the function of inspector of military clergy over all sects.

When Miron Cristea became Primate Metropolitan in 1919, he sought to reward, by means of appointment as Bishop of the Army, one of the Orthodox archpriests from Transylvania who had stood out in the political activism for Unification. The first candidate was Vasile Saftu, Archpriest of Brașov and former president of the Romanian National Council in Țara Bârsei. Although he was appointed Bishop of the Army in 1921, he did not take on the role as he died on 6 April 1922. The second candidate was Ioan Teculescu, Archpriest of Alba Iulia and president of the Romanian National Council in 1918. As a widower, he took the monastic name of Justinian. The church and state authorities accepted him with reverence. He was awarded the Crown of the Order of Romania, the rank of Commander, and a Reward for Work in the Church medal, first class. He was ordained as Bishop of Alba Iulia on 10 March 1923 and enthroned on 10 April the same year. However, his role at the head of the Bishopric of the Army was short-lived: in December 1924 he instead became Bishop of Cetatea Albă and Ismail.

On 15 June 1925, Ioan Stroia was ordained Bishop of the Army.He was a Professor of History and Moral Theology at the Theological-Pedagogic Institute in Sibiu and since 1908 had been Archpriest of Sibiu. Among his achievements as Bishop of the Army was his creation of the Temporary instructions on religious service during peace and war, written in 1931. He strove to obtain as many churches as possible for the army.

The death of Ioan Stroia in 1937 opened again the question of succession to the army’s Episcopal seat. The Holy Synod of the Romanian OrthodoxChurch proposed to the Ministry of National Defence three candidates. The winner was Partenie Ciopron, primarily because he was a combatant in the First World War, wounded in 1917 in the battle of Oituz. Moreover, in the interwar period he had had a remarkable career. He became a monk in 1921 and graduated from the Faculty of Theology in Cernăuți; in 1934 he was ordained as the Exarch of Monasteries in the Archbishopric of Jassy. At the threat of a new world war, as Bishop of Alba Iulia, Partenie Ciopron, strove to increase the number of military priests, which went from from 30 clerics in 1937 to more than 100 in 1941, the year when Romania entered war. Being aware of the usefulness of a church newspaper, in 1940 he established a journal called Arma Cuvântului (The Weapon of the Word). During the Second World War, apart from providing religious assistance to soldiers, the military priests made efforts to regenerate the religious life Bessarabia, which had been disrupted by one year of Soviet occupation.

After almost 100 years since its establishment, the Bishopric of Alba Iulia might create problems in the domain of inter-confessional relationships. It would be interesting to explore the attitude of the protestant and neo-protestant pastors, rabbis and imams placed under the military and administrative jurisdiction of an Orthodox bishop. The bishop’s mission was not easy. The first army bishop had to build a complex structure from scratch and each change of leadership required several years to choose the appropriate candidate. The first two bishops were obligated to carry out their activities in a space made available through the transfer of a division from Alba Iulia to Galați. Only in 1928/9, in the context of organizing the Unification Celebrations did the government offer financial support for the completion of the Coronation Cathedral. After this, the cathedral and the south-eastern wing of the complex became the administrative seat of the Bishopric of the Army.

The Communist regime installed in Romania in 1945-1948 showed visible displeasure at the presence of the church in the army. The institution of military clergy was abolished through an order issued on 28 August 1948. (V.M.)

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